Compartment Syndrome

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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What are the complications of compartment syndrome?

Left unrecognized or untreated, the complications of acute compartment syndrome are irreversible. As swelling increases and muscle loses its blood supply, cells eventually die and muscle necrosis occurs. Complications include:

  • muscle scarring, contracture and loss of function of the limb;
  • infection;
  • amputation;
  • permanent nerve damage; and/or
  • rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown) and kidney damage.

Complications due to chronic or exercise induced compartment syndrome are rare but may include any of the above, especially if the person requires surgery to alleviate the chronic condition.

What is the prognosis for compartment syndrome?

Acute compartment syndrome is a potentially devastating condition. Return of normal function and minimizing injury depends upon quick recognition of the situation and prompt surgical fasciotomy to resolve the increased pressure. The longer the delay to surgery, the more potential for permanent loss of muscle and nerve function. The prognosis for chronic compartment syndrome is usually excellent.

Medically reviewed by Aimee V. HachigianGould, MD; American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery

Bucholz RW, et.al., Rockwood and Green's Fracture in Adults. 6th ed. United States; Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2006

eMedicine.com. Compartment Syndrome, Exremity; Mulitmedia.
<http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/828456-media>

National Institutes of Health. Compartment Syndrome.
<http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001224.htm>

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/19/2015

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